In many areas in the country, the strength of the opposition to LGBT people and rights is directly correlated to the number of Early Bird specials in that area. In other words, it’s generational. Even in Evangelical circles in many areas, the kids just don’t care about hating gay people like their parents and grandparents do. They know better. Unfortunately, Fulton, Mississippi, home of Constance McMillen, is not yet one of those places. As is so often the case in Mississippi and surrounding states, rural residents are so sheltered from the outside world that they haven’t gotten the message that discrimination against gay people isn’t okay. Many of them, quite frankly, haven’t gotten the message that discrimination against black people is not okay!
Fulton, Mississippi, is only two hours from the sprawling metropolis of Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is solid blue country, represented in the House of Representatives by Steve Cohen, who may be the coolest member of Congress. As a Wonkette commenter said the other day, “He’s from Memphis and votes like he’s from Vermont.” And his seat is safe!*
Fulton is also just over an hour from Oxford, Mississippi, a small town which, though distinctly Southern, is also a smart, liberal college town with an amazing live music scene and it’s a haven of sorts for authors, all the way back to William Faulkner, who made his home there. Oxford, basically, is awesome, a glimmer of hope in what is otherwise a wasteland.
But you see, in much of rural South, distance should never be measured by miles, for you or I could drive down the highway through and past Southern towns, we could stop at their diners, but we would not actually be in the same place as the locals at the next table over. No, distance in the rural South is often more accurately measured in decades. The joke about Atlanta and many other large cities in the South is that you go back ten years as you leave each successive county, as suburbs fade into exurbs into straight-up country. Like most jokes of that sort, it’s funny because it’s true. For cities with less insane sprawl than Atlanta, the time machine effect is even more jarring. I’d venture to say that going South from Memphis into Mississippi, you hit 1950 before you’ve used a quarter tank of gas.
All of that background goes to say, for those who aren’t that familiar with the area, that I’m not surprised that this is happening:
The school board’s response states that parents have organized a private prom at a furniture mart in nearby Tupleo [sic]. Now that the school district has withdrawn from the event, any constitutional claims are irrelevant, Griffith wrote. [American Civil Liberties Union attorney Christine] Sun said she had only heard rumors of the private dance until she read it in the brief.
“Constance has not been invited, so it is clear to me that what is happening is that the school has encouraged a private prom that is not open to all the students,” she said. “That’s what Constance is fighting for‚Äîa prom where everyone can go.”
On one discussion on an Internet bulletin board about the planned prom in Tupelo, a poster who identified himself as a junior at the high school said the prom would be “invitation only.”
“Constance and her gay-activist friends will not be attending,” he said. “They can go have their own prom because we certainly do not want any of them there.”
The poster expressed frustration at the attention the issue had brought to the city of about 4,000.
If this had happened in Memphis, we would most likely be hearing a very different story. An alternate prom would have been organized, all right, but very likely it would be a specifically inclusive prom. There are pockets of wingnut in the Memphis area, to be sure, and I’m not saying there would be no bellyaching from those quarters. But even in the suburbs, I’m fairly certain that if a large public high school pulled any of the crap the Itawamba County school board has, fairness would win, and the students would be on the right side of the matter, for the most part.
Dan Savage has much more on this, including the bitching and moaning of the school board’s attorney, James Keith, that the board members have been under “tremendous pressure,” even going so far as receiving phone calls and Facebook messages from mean supporters of fairness and equality all over the country! As Dan said, file that under “boo hoo hoo.”
The thing about 2010, with our interwebs and our technology and whatnot, is that places like Fulton, Mississippi may hope against hope that they can remain in 1956, where they like it, where they feel safe. But they can no longer be guaranteed that the bright light of reality will never intervene in their calm. And thank god for that, really. Because the thing is, there are kids like Constance McMillen all over the Dirty South, and there are kids like Constance in the “Alabama” parts of Pennsylvania and Idaho. From sea to shining sea, as they say. And while the intervention of reality may be greeted like so many burs in the ass cracks of the wingnuts who populate places like Fulton, who pine for the days when “Whites Only” was more than just a fading memory, those kids, many of them living in silence and fear, can take comfort in the fact that the real world is out there, and that they’re not alone.
*(There’s an obnoxious primary challenge going on, but we won’t get into that. The point is that when Steve runs against a Republican in Memphis, he steamrolls them, then he backs up and steamrolls them again.)